Palm Springs: Dolly Faibyshev

As the daughter of Russian immigrants to the United States, Dolly Faibyshev’s work purports to “explore the American Dream, in all its forms”.

Rather than the American Dream per se -that egalitarian ideal in which the opportunity to achieve prosperity and upward social mobility through aptitude and perseverance in one’s work is available to all, free from the interferences of monarchs or despots– Faibyshev’s projects to date center around sites of consumption, materiality and spectacle.  From New York nightclubs to Vegas poolsides, hers is an American Dream of prosperity measured in leisure-time, with axes for its availability, apparatuses and devotees.

Indeed, her other works could arguably be conceived as exemplars of the Four Dreams of Consumerism. If the lurid, over-ornamented, fever-dream interior design ethos captured in her MePa series of nightclubs is Abundance, then the spectacle of corporate-sponsored quasi-rusticity found in Rodeo is Freedom of Choice. The patent absurdity of pampered dogs and their owners in Best in Show covers Novelty with ease, leaving Vegas as the Democracy of Goods; cigarette-and-tat stands, luxury cars, automatic weapons and objectified bodies coexisting and thriving in a proximity born of Faibyshev’s editing and predilection for the close-crop. 

Such pop-culture subject matter is, of course, familiar to the point of being hackneyed. What elevates the work, however, is Faibyshev’s praiseworthy ability to operate within a carefully-navigated interstice between Parr-style satirical folly, Eggleston-esque preoccupation with colour and the psychic distance of Hopper while conjuring up her Technicolor vignettes of Americana.

The cinematic analogy is a fitting one for Palm Springs. Post-WWII, a host of Hollywood luminaries including Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, and Cary Grant settled there, establishing the town’s reputation as a “Movie Colony”.  It was the ability of these well-heeled inhabitants to commission the fashionable architects of the day that turned Palm Springs into the epicenter of Mid-Century Modern architecture; on whose rectilinear volumes and razor-cut landscaping Faibyshev relies to make her graphic, formalist compositions. 

It’s no great exaggeration to say that the houses and gardens in her series more closely resemble movie sets than homes; pristine 1950’s architecture enveloping equally spotless vintage cars, swimming pools encircled by figurative sculptures in a Kubrickian balancing-act between gaudiness and refinement, all isolated before the craggy desert mountains of the Coachella Valley.

It is in this notion that one comes to the crux of Palm Springs, and where the light-hearted satire of her previous works takes on an unsettling poignancy. 

If these designer houses speak of prosperity, (as well as leisure, wellbeing and affluence) they do so using the idealized tongue of the media product ; the highkey, hypersaturated visual language of countless movies, magazines and TV shows that distributed and cemented the idea of the American Dream across generations and borders. An American Dream for which home ownership has long been the symbol of the dream fulfilled. An idea that, in the present day, lies thoroughly discredited at the feet of scholars citing dismal social mobility statistics and a host of racial and economic inequalities in US society.

By touching upon its core symbol –home ownership-  Faibyshev’s Palm Springs manages to open the wound of present-day America’s distance from the Declaration of Independence’s egalitarian ideals; the internal atrophy to which her other works have been merely the scab, the itch, the inconsequential but related symptoms, the Great Gatsby to her Fear and Loathing.   

When the artist states that:

(palm springs is)…. like stepping into the past, a time warp where many of the homes and surrounding architecture have been preserved -especially the exteriors- since the 1950s. Sometimes it feels like everything is changing around us so fast, it feels good to go to a place that hasn’t changed much at all. There’s something a little unsettling about that for me too….” It is the idealized, mid-20th century image of the American Dream that is yearned for, and the contemporary understanding of its unviability that renders the experience “unsettling”. 

The same might be said of Faibyshev’s work on the whole. Her images never ‘settle’ in the mind; rather, they hover within the collective visual memory of pop-Americana and amongst a nexus of heavy-hitters from the worlds of both visual art and literature.

It is this that allows her brash, un-subtle style to reward extended viewing and cerebral engagement. And if you don’t have your thinking cap on? Bloody good fun at a glance, too.


Click HERE for more from Dolly Faibyshev
— Kevin J Clarke